With its own namesake metro station, Xintiandi has been a Shanghai icon for over a decade. An upmarket entertainment and shopping complex modelled on traditional alleyway (lòngtáng) homes, this was the first development in the city to prove that historical architecture makes big commercial sense. Elsewhere that might sound like a no-brainer, but in 21st-century China, where bulldozers are always on standby, it came as quite a revelation.
Well-heeled shoppers and alfresco diners keep things lively until late, and if you’re looking for a memorable meal or to browse through some of Shanghai’s more fashionable boutiques, you’re in the right spot. The heart of the complex, divided into a pedestrianised north and south block, consists of largely rebuilt traditional shíkùmén houses, brought bang up to date with a stylish modern spin. But while the layout suggests a flavour of yesteryear, you should not expect much in the cultural realm. Xintiandi doesn’t deliver any of the lived-in charms of Tianzifang or the creaking, rickety simplicity of Shanghai Old City. Beyond two worthwhile sights – the Shikumen Open House Museum and the Site of the 1st National Congress of the CCP – it’s best for strolling the prettified alleyways and enjoying a summer evening over drinks or a meal.